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This Week in Magazines: Fear and Shopping

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President Obama's economic team has surely read British economist John Maynard Keynes' classic, "The General Theory of Employment and Money," as they borrow partly from him to revive the economy.

But they might also check the March issue of ShopSmart from your friends at Consumer Reports---and then cross their fingers.

Magazines are awash with our fear- and debt-ridden mess, with lots of profiles of key players. Just check Feb. 16 Forbes for "Obama's T-Man: Tough Enough?" a look at Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. Or peruse Feb. 9 Time's "It's Now or Never for Larry Summers," a profile of Obama's chief economic adviser.

Each is excellent on detailing the obvious problems the two men face, all made more complex by substantial philosophical differences not just between congressional Republicans and Democrats but within the administration itself. They are players in a huge experiment whose outcome only a fool would confidently claim to know.

Then there's ShopSmart, a wonderful potpourri of smart consumerism, be it buying slow cookers, coffee machines, fitness machines, televisions, computers, clothes, light beer, you name it. There's counsel on how to be a shrewd online shopper; who produces the best low-sodium products; how to save money in organizing your closet or home office; do's and don'ts when it comes to home security; and which drugstore diagnostic tests to avoid.

If I had a favorite, especially in this post-holiday period when too many are carrying to much weight, it's probably "What to Buy to Get in Shape Now." It's a good lowdown on jump ropes, dumbbells, weighted bars, weighted balls, treadmills and elliptical trainers.

Why should the Obama team read this? Well, they best hope that all of us start buying some of these products. In the long run, we'd best do a better job when it comes to saving money. For now, if we don't have the confidence to get a new coffee machine, car, home or TV set, the best laid plans of all the President's men and women might not work.

---Feb. 2 Sports Illustrated's "The Power of LeBron" chronicles all the ways that LeBron James, the man-child-turned basketball superstar, is growing bigger and smarter. And while there's a chunk of former New York Yankee manager Joe Torre's well-publicized new book in "So, Do You Want Me to Manage?" the best here might just be Selena Roberts' column, "Notah Begay's Tour of Duty." Begay is a pro golfer and full-blooded Native American who funds soccer and golf programs for kids of the Pueblo of San Felipe in New Mexico, where pre-recession median household income was $29,800 and 38 percent of the population was below the federal poverty line.

"I realize I can't change everything for everybody," says Begay, who also knows the depressing suicide and high school dropout rates on the reservation. "But whether you're rich or poor, you have 24 hours in a day. That's your resource. As an athlete, you ask yourself, What do you do with it?"

---"The Bank Bailout is Broken" is the melancholy cover story of Feb. 9 Business Week. This includes a narrower look at the Bank of America via "The Federal Bailout Hasn't Fixed Bank of America." If you want to know how we wasted about $138 billion on Bank of America, read this and weep.

--- The February 9 New Yorker offers a wonderful homage to one of its own, the Late John Updike, in Picked-Up Pieces, a look at some of his 800 pieces contributed to the magazine over 50 years. Even Updike fans may be further impressed by his eclectic range, whether it's fiction or musings on skyscrapers, baseball, author Muriel Spark or Erica Jong. Reviewing Jong's Fear of Flying, Updike wrote, "Containing all the cracked eggs of the feminist litany, her soufflé rises with a poet's afflatus." Afflatus? That's defined as, "A strong creative impulse, especially as a result of divine inspiration."

The issue includes new Beijing correspondent Evan Osnos' "The Promised Land," a look at the growth of, and social tensions arising from, Chinese trade with Africa. Africa is now China's second-biggest trading partner, behind the United States, but Chinese racism is prevalent in how African immigrants are treated. "Chairman Mao challenged feudal-era racial stereotypes and applauded the American civil-rights movement as a struggle for liberation," Osnos writes. "But the change was short-lived; his reformist successors celebrated economic success, not egalitarianism." While marked tensions for African attending Chinese universities have subsided, and the National Basketball Association has been a "de facto P.R. campaign for black people in China," racial sophistication is modest and Africans have a tough time, as Osnos chronicles here.

---Feb. 9 Newsweek is a vivid example of its latest strategy to save a proud journalistic franchise, namely a dominant focus on opinion and analysis, not traditional notions of news. The cover, "Obama's Vietnam: How To Salvage Afghanistan," is highlighted by Fareed Zakaria's, "A Turnaround Strategy," namely an urging for changes in our counterinsurgency tactics; the strengthening of a corrupt and chaotic central government; pressuring the Pakistani army to dismantle jihadist networks; and somehow convincing the Taliban to abandon its links to Al Qaeda.

And if there was a truly tidy example of being intentionally provocative, the magazine provides same with Christopher Hitchens' "The Pope's Denial Problem." He bashes Pope Benedict XVI for attempting to accommodate right-wing defectors, including those with doubts the Holocaust took place and who harbor those wacky theories about President Bush having orchestrated the events of 9/11 to justify war. "One might think a responsible church would be indignantly arraigning and expelling such people rather than piously seeking reconciliation with them. Apparently, one would be wrong."

---So, tired of war, economic disarray and religious bigotry? Well, try out February-March Organic Gardening, including its "Top 11 New Vegetables." The magazine urges you not to begin planning your 2009 garden before you inspect varieties that passed its own tests of 16 tomato varieties, nine lettuces, eight peppers, five winter squashes and lots of corn, melons, eggplants and other veggies. Whew! Want to know about a "Smarty Tomato," "Yaya Carrot" or "Trombetta Climbing Italian Summer Squash"? They're all here.